Back in February of this year, NBC noticed a sad trend: out of over 40 scripted drama pilots filmed for the broadcast network last year, only two had female directors. The numbers were even worse once women of color were factored in, with precisely zero tapped to director either a drama or comedy pilot. That’s not a good look. Which may be why NBC announced today they are putting into a motion a new directive called “Female Forward” in an attempt to balance the scales behind the camera.
The project is being led by NBC President Jennifer Salke, who is patterning with director Lesli Linka Glatter (Mad Men) to find ten female directors to attach to NBC projects during the 2018-2019 season. Each woman will shadow another director for up to three episodes of their assigned show before being unshackled and given the reigns to direct at least one episode on her own. In theory, this should alleviate the hand-wringing by NBC executives that female directors don’t have the experience necessary to direct big-budget dramas while helping said female directors bypass the Catch-22 that keeps them from getting experience because they need experience to get experience and on an on until the heat death of the universe.
“It’s been a collective and urgent goal of ours to identify more female directors. We strongly believe women can and should be at the forefront of telling compelling stories, and I hope the guaranteed directing component will have real impact on our shows as well as the industry,” said Jennifer Salke. “We are thrilled with the enthusiastic response to this initiative, not only from our own Universal Television studio and producing partners, but also from outside suppliers and showrunners.” Glatter added, “It shouldn’t be harder for our daughters to direct than for our sons. It should be an equal playing field.”
“Female Forward” will piggyback on top of NBC’s other initiative, led by Karen Horne, Senior Vice President of Programming Talent Development and Inclusion, which strives to bring much needed diversity to NBC. For her part, Horne is optimistic about the new programs’s outreach. “Our programs have discovered, nurtured and promoted people of diverse backgrounds to become the next generation of storytellers with great success stories, including Sharat Raju, Alan Yang, Mindy Kaling and Lil Rel Howery. There’s no doubt in my mind that this program will springboard the success of many future female directors and I’m very much looking forward to that future.”
However, I’m a tad skeptical. Hollywood loves to announce their “diversity initiatives,” but results can be lacking. For instance, CBS started something similar for talent in 2016, yet their current line-up is lily white, which must chafe the folks running their diversity department. Though, to be fair, all of the broadcast networks are getting trounced in the diversity department by The CW. This shouldn’t be that difficult.